Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Phil Johnson cleared one of the hurdles he has to face as the fill-in head coach of the Utah Jazz.
Johnson even ended his morning shootaround interview session with a witty one-word response that elicited laughter from media members.
Now the longtime assistant, who's assuming the coaching responsibilities for two games while Jerry Sloan attends a family funeral, has an even more menacing obstacle than dealing with local reporters in his way.
The Jazz face the red-hot 9-1 San Antonio Spurs at EnergySolutions Arena tonight, and Johnson will be leading the charge for 8-4 Utah.
It's looking like Jazz will have everybody but Mehmet Okur at their disposal for the 7 p.m. game. C.J. Miles (back), Al Jefferson (back) and Paul Millsap (head cold) all participated in shootaround and are listed as probable.
Even so, getting over Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and a revived Richard Jefferson is far more daunting than dealing with nosy guys with recorders for the Jazz and their "new" coach.
Duncan's versatility of posting up and scoring off the pick-and-roll combined with the Spurs' outside threat will challenge the Jazz on multiple defensive fronts.
"You've got to bring your 'A' game, that's for sure," Johnson said. "You've got to be ready."
Deron Williams knows he'll have his hands full with the quick Parker, who's helped the Spurs equal their best start ever.
But wait, isn't this team supposed to be over the hill?
"They're getting old, but are they ever going to play like they're getting old? That's the question," Williams said. "They're always ready to play, they have a great coach, a great system. They know what makes them successful and they go out and execute it."
Williams doesn't expect much change with how things operate under Johnson, either.
"They have the same philosophies, the same principles," he said of Sloan and Johnson. "They've been together so long, it's pretty much like you don't miss anything. Phil was a head coach anyway, so we know that."
He's also a coach with a dry sense of humor.
Asked jokingly who would restrain him from going after the referees to avoid getting technical fouls — one of his visible duties with Sloan — Johnson didn't hesitate with his response: "Money."
Those technicals do, after all, cost $2,000 a pop this season.
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